Monday, April 04, 2016

The State of the White House

For the first time in weeks, we have seen some momentum in the Republican nomiantion that didn't seem to favor Donald Trump over the past week.  In fact, it was arguably the worst week for the Trump campaign since Donald first announced his candidacy.  Questions arose around his campaign manager, a narrative on women that his campaign can't seem to handle (particularly his flimsy reasoning surrounding a series of shifts of opinion on abortion), and even an attack on his chief opponent's wife that felt incredibly out-of-bounds.  Additionally, he clearly has been winning the battle but losing the war, as states like Louisiana and North Dakota look more-and-more likely to hand over their delegates to Cruz even without him winning the state.  And finally, Trump is down in Wisconsin, and since he tends to underperform on Election Day, that's a bad thing for his campaign.  All-in-all, he desperately needs a change in narrative as we head to the back-half of the campaign season.

But the question remains-does this change the ranking of who is most likely to be the next president of the United States?  We haven't revisited our "who is Number 45?" rankings for a while (mostly because the rankings haven't changed all that much), so I figured it was time to go there.  Let's take a look at what Trump's "Week from Hell" has done to his second place position.

Honorable Mention: You should note here that I'm putting honorable mention rather than "Not on the List" for the first time in a while, as I do think there are arguably six candidates with a path again to the nomination, and not just five (ironically this happens when there are now less than six people actually running).  I'm putting John Kasich back on the bench, however, despite him landing in fifth place on our last rundown.  The reason for this is two-fold.  One, it's going to be pretty hard for Kasich, who will likely head into the convention with just his home state as a victory, to claim he has earned the right to be president by being more stubborn than Bush, Rubio, and Christie in terms of getting out of the race.  Two, it feels like the Cruz and Trump camps, usually bitterly at odds with each other, are doing everything in their collective power to deny Kasich a shot at the nomination.  If a compromise candidate comes out, Kasich might be someone the GOP would want to put in front of Hillary Clinton, but my gut says that neither Cruz or Trump is going to want to see a man they clobbered repeatedly on the campaign trail gaining their nomination.  As a result, I think they'll ensure their supporters get behind either one of them or a third option.

5. Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT)

The reason that Sanders, who I still think has very little shot at the nomination, is ahead of Kasich is both because he can still mathematically win the nomination, and (more importantly) because the dynamics of his race are turning more and more in his favor.  Sanders has won a series of important races in the past few weeks (namely Washington and Michigan, both states Clinton should have done better in), and is set to do very well tomorrow in Wisconsin.  Perhaps more important, though, is the fact that the Democratic Primary has turned much more bitter.  A video of Hillary Clinton angrily fighting a protester at her campaign rally (who, it turns out, was not directly affiliated with the Sanders campaign as she assumed in the video), has set off a bit of a heightened war, with Sanders now fighting Clinton on her own turf in New York, where she served for eight years in the Senate.  Make no mistake, Sanders has an uphill battle, but it's been clear since the beginning that his only real shot against Hillary Clinton was to go negative and try and make her seem unpalatable to Democrats that are on the fence regarding her.  This strategy may not be good for the party, but it's probably Sanders' best overall shot. (Previous Ranking: N/A)

4. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI)

Ryan remains on the list, and in a lot of ways I think just got a little higher in the past few weeks as it seems more and more likely that we'll hit at least a second ballot at the RNC.  The reality here is that if the establishment GOP gets their act together, they could well do something they weren't able to get done throughout the entire primary-get a candidate they want (read: not Cruz or Trump) through to fight against Hillary Clinton.  While most publicly would say someone like John Kasich since he's running, his lackluster campaign probably leaves room for someone with more proven chops.  Ryan is the current Speaker of the House, the 2012 VP candidate, and one of the few candidates in the party to have both the national stature and the conservative bonafides to make a race against Hillary Clinton.  Other candidates like Mitt Romney (too yesterday's news), Nikki Haley (too unknown, though in this situation she'd be a guaranteed nominee at veep), and Scott Walker (he did technically run and lose, though you probably don't remember it) all have too many deficits.  I suspect that if the ballots start stacking up (say, beyond two or three), Reince Priebus may start greasing the wheels for a Paul Ryan candidacy as a peace offering. (Previous Ranking: 4)

3. Donald Trump (R-NY)

Yep, I'm downgrading Trump a slot after this past week, and I'm going to explain why.  Yes, Trump is the only candidate that can mathematically make it to the magical number of 1237 in the Republican primary, and he will almost certainly head into the convention halls with more delegates and votes than every other candidate.  That being said, the establishment GOP hates Trump so much they're willing to hug Ted Cruz-that's true loathing.  And at the convention hall, they have the power to be able to deny Trump the nomination if it goes to a second ballot, in which case Trump (who doesn't have the long political connections that Kasich, Ryan, or even Cruz have) won't know how to play the game.  There's still a chance, of course, that Trump regains momentum and picks up an abnormally large amount of supporters in upcoming contests (I anticipate he'll clobber in New York, for example), but his path to the nomination is getting narrower and narrower, and his incendiary comments may not hurt him with his actual primary voters, but it will with convention delegates.  There are inherent risks with denying Trump the nomination (particularly since his true supporters, who will be in the hall, could (like he has said) riot causing the GOP a horrible visual akin to the 1968 convention for the Democrats) and the Republican nominee will be given the arduous (potentially impossible) task of converting Trump supporters back to his cause against Hillary Clinton, but I think the GOP is willing to commit collective suicide for a cycle if it means Trump not being their nominee. (Previous Ranking: 2)

2. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)

Cruz still lags Trump in supporters, states, and delegates, but he's winning the war while losing critical battles.  As it stands, he's playing chess while Trump is playing checkers, scooping up delegates in contests with space for backroom dealing (look at North Dakota), and is also starting the narrative with voters that it should either be he or Trump as the nominee, even working with the Trump campaign to keep John Kasich off the ballot at the convention hall.  Make no mistake, Ted Cruz is aware that he is basically the GOP establishment's last choice and knows that he'll need to win on the second (rather than the first) ballot in Cleveland (too long of a convention will result in a compromise nominee like Kasich or Ryan), but he's clearly gearing his entire campaign toward a victory there-scooping up as many #NeverTrump votes as possible, angling himself as someone party power-brokers can get behind (look at how Nikki Haley, Mitt Romney, and Lindsey Graham have, begrudgingly, gotten behind him), and trying as hard as he can to make himself look less crazy than Trump, in hopes that he'll come across as a "moderate" in the general election, even if that idea is preposterous on the face of it (though have you seen CNN?-nothing is impossible in terms of ridiculous for the news media).  All-in-all, Cruz doesn't seem particularly likely to be president, but he's now in a position that feels more confident than Trump. (Previous Ranking: 3)

1. Sec. Hillary Clinton (D-NY)

Literally any other year, Hillary Clinton would have been a goner.  Her campaign has been dogged by email scandals and a general malaise toward her candidacy amongst even her fellow Democrats that would have doomed most other contenders.  I suspect that if Joe Biden or Elizabeth Warren had run, they may well have turned this into a victory or at least a contested convention (Bernie Sanders' message would have probably been more attractive in a non-Socialist from Vermont package).  She's got historically poor approval ratings from the general public, she's running for a third term for the Democrats (something that hasn't been pulled off by a non-incumbent since 1836), and she's not a great retail campaigner, certainly not compared to the last three presidents.  And yet, with each passing day she becomes more and more likely to achieve her dream to become the woman behind the Resolute Desk.  Clinton's luck is entirely due to the implosion of the GOP in a fashion that has now outdone even their bizarre series of throwaway Senate elections in 2010 and 2012.  She seems likely to face either Donald Trump, a candidate who could well put states like Arizona and Georgia into play for the Democrats, or Ted Cruz, a Republican hated by his Senate caucus who would be the most conservative Republican put forward by the party in a generation.  In many ways it feels a little like 1988, where the Republicans could have been vulnerable but the Democrats couldn't get their act together and so Reagan essentially won a third term.  Clinton will likely start with no honeymoon, could well be a one-termer, would probably lose to anyone other than Trump or Cruz, and will have a lot of votes cast for her with people holding their nose, but that doesn't mean that she doesn't win the White House.  At this point, no one else seems particularly feasible. (Previous Ranking: 1)

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